In May 2013 the Fair Work Commission commenced an unfair dismissal pro bono pilot program.
The pilot was designed to provide a duty lawyer scheme for applicants and respondents involved in unfair dismissal jurisdictional hearings before the Commission. The pilot was limited to hearings conducted in Melbourne and ran until December 2013.
Fourteen law firms participated in the pilot scheme and participating lawyers were provided with technical and advocacy training before commencing their role.
The Centre for Innovative Justice (CIJ) was engaged by the Commission to assess the pilot to:
- determine the success of the pilot
- provide recommendations for future programs
- ascertain whether the pilot should be continued as a 'business as usual activity', and
- determine what, if any, amendments to the pilot should be made to ensure its successful operation going forward.
In conducting its assessment, the CIJ examined a range of data provided by the Commission, including:
- responses from a survey of pilot participants
- observations from Commissioners about the conduct of matters involved in the program, and
- feedback from lawyers who had participated in training programs run by the Commission, as well as in the program itself.
The CIJ also drew on its previous examination of relevant research about the experience of self-represented litigants in the legal process and the value of receiving legal advice or representation at different stages of the complaint process.
The CIJ made a number of recommendations including:
- that a pro bono pilot program for unfair dismissal jurisdiction objections be implemented on an ongoing basis at the Commission, and
- that the scope of the program be more clearly defined, particularly around the confines of the assistance that should generally be expected by parties and provided by law firms.
The Commission has considered all the recommendations made by the CIJ. It has also provided the report to all participating law firms and sought their feedback about the recommendations.
As a result of the CIJ’s recommendations and the further feedback by law firms the Commission has made significant revisions to the pilot scheme. The revised scheme was provided to the participating law firms for comment and firms were asked to recommit to the scheme.
On 1 July 2014 the scheme to provide unrepresented parties with free legal advice in relation to unfair dismissal jurisdiction hearings recommenced as a permanent initiative of the Commission.